Apology to Terry Thornton
I attempted to post this entire apology on Terry’s blog “Hill Country of Monroe County, Mississippi” but it exceeded the 4,096 character limit for comments.
So I posted part of the comment there, and the entire apology here.
I want to add my sincere apology to Nathan’s. We have made more than one mistake in the 8 days since GenealogyWise debuted. Censoring your comment was completely inappropriate, and the moment I heard about it (I was in a meeting with FamilySearch in Salt Lake City at the time) I said, we need to apologize and to establish a policy of not censoring any criticisms of GW.
The earlier mistake was creating a contest that was a marketing gimmick that had the potential to spoil the legitimate community experience of GW users. I apologize for that too.
May I share with you a little background about myself and some of our team?
I founded Ancestry.com in 1996 and in the early years was very proud of what our company was doing, how we kept our prices reasonable, and how we supported and encouraged a thriving genealogical community. By 2001 prices started to get out of control (imho), the support for a free MyFamily.com disappeared, and Rootsweb started getting far less resources and attention. I had led the effort for MyFamily.com to acquire Rootsweb because I loved how that site operated and allowed so many people to set up mailing lists, host content, and enable genealogical collaboration–all for free. I was very disappointed when MyFamily (where I was by then 1 of 9 board members and a tiny minority shareholder) go from like 17 full-time people supporting Rootsweb to only 2 or 3.
So, I have a long history in the genealogical community. So does some of our team at FamilyLink. But some of our 60 employees and contractors are very new to the genealogical space. They are gifted entrepreneurs, designers, and product managers. Some have even built online communities before. But no community, in my experience, is anything like the genealogical community. And everyone on our team needs to learn what is unique about this community, and how to enable it, and never cross it. We aren’t off to a great start at GW, but we learn quickly. And as everyone can see, we connect in real time via Twitter, Facebook, and blogs like this, so that we can respond immediately to concerns or complaints. We’ll add more personnel very soon so we can cover all the boards and forums, not just some of them.
I left Ancestry/MyFamily.com/TGN/Ancestry.com back in February 2002, but I missed this industry so much. Finally, in 2006, several of the original Ancestry.com team came back together and launched WorldVitalRecords.com first, then a social genealogy site which later became FamilyHistoryLink.com. But our first real, completely supported and very robust genealogical social network is GenealogyWise.
We are extremely excited about creating a very open, free, robust community with all the genealogical features the community wants. GW has the potential to become the next Rootsweb. But instead of cutting support staff, we’ll be adding to it as fast as we need to.
We are looking at building applications on top of the API that societies and individual genealogists will find very engaging. As we add GenSeek and GenStream functionality to GW and potentially free hosting for all kinds of society databases, we think GW will serve the needs of millions of genealogists worldwide.
For this reason, our missteps in our first 8 days are very painful for all of us that sincerely want to create the best social network for genealogy. Again, I personally apologize for our deleting your comments and for launching that $800 contest.
To put our money where our mouse is (and to show our good intentions and our sincerity), we will send a check for $801 to the Itawamba Historical Society, at the above listed address. It should arrive by next week. We will also send $801 to the Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, which is an organization that does a lot of good for a lot of people. I know they have had trouble with hosting expenses and servers. If you don’t consider them a non-profit (I don’t know how they are organized or incorporated) then we’ll send $801 to another genealogical group.
Having been in this industry since 1996, I know hundreds of wonderful genealogists all over the world, and there are dozens of society leaders than I know personally and would love to find ways to support.
In fact, supporting societies has always been one of my goals, dating back to the “Society Hall” feature of Ancestry.com in the early days.
If you want to see something that is both interesting and also dates me, in terms of my involvement in the online genealogy industry, check out this Internet Archive link that shows the original Ancestry.com site back in 1996.
I personally designed the logo (I apologize for this too!) and have never designed one since.
My point in showing you the 1996 Ancestry which several people on the current FamilyLink team developed, is that we care deeply about starting small and creating something really useful and helpful for the millions of genealogists who devote so much of their lives to researching their ancestors, and preserving the records and stories which add so much meaning to life.
I don’t know what else I can personally say in this comment that will indicate how sorry I am, and how sorry we as a company are, that we made these mistakes. I will say that last night on my iPhone (after about a 12 hour work day) I read all of the 73 comments in the thread at GW about censorship policies. (Now there are 96)
Yesteday we announced a new full-time community manager for GW, Gena Ortega, who publishes the WorldVitalRecords blog and newsletter and has a lot of experience in the industry. In addition, we’ve added a full-time developer, Casidy Andersen, and we’ll be adding more personnel to help build the features of GW that I mentioned earlier and to interact with the community.
If the community flees from GW now because of our mistakes (and lack of a clear policy about inappropriate content), I think everyone loses. We can’t build a community site without the community–no matter how feature rich it is.
But we want to invest in building something you and others in the community will love. We’re in a unique position to do this.
I spoke at a BYU genealogy conference a year ago and said that the commercial genealogy industry worldwide is actually tiny–far smaller than most of us think. I figure there are probably less than 10 companies worldwide that actually have 10 or more full-time people building genealogical products. There are hundreds of wonderful small companies, too, but very few that have a full team dedicated to building great products for the community.
Because we have 50 million users of our Facebook application, We’re Related, which is primarily an application for families to find living relatives, and because that application is advertising supported, we have had enough revenue to been able to hire dozens of people in the last 6 months to help build our family, genealogy, and history applications.
We want to build the best products that we can, to help everyone in their individual quests to find ancestors and connect with living relatives. We feel satisfaction from every success story we hear.
If you’ll accept my apology, and appreciate our sincerity, and if we (everyone at GW) will learn to respect you and all other genealogists for their opinions and the right to express them — then perhaps all of us can pull together and build something remarkable and free that will bring together the genealogists of the world (and their families) in a special way.
I truly hope so. And I hope you’ll accept this apology and receive the check as a token of our respect for you and all volunteers at all non-profit genealogical and historical societies everywhere.